Edible Monterey Bay

Cultura Partners Planning Monterey Venture

December 11, 2018 – Monterey’s vibrant downtown dining scene is about to get even more exciting.

If all goes to plan, the creative team behind the wildly popular Oaxacan-influenced Cultura comida y bebida in Carmel will be opening a new restaurant at 481 Alvarado St. in March.

Cultura partners Sarah Kabat-Marcy, John Cox and Michelle Estigoy just signed the lease in November on what was Alvarado Fish & Steakhouse—the storefront between Bull and Bear and Toribashi. And while they have already started to gut the interior, they are still narrowing down ideas for the restaurant’s cuisine. 

“It’s definitely going to be influenced by our travels and our appreciation for art, history and culture,” says Kabat-Marcy, Cultura’s managing partner.

A lot of their travels have focused on Mexico and specifically Oaxaca, so it’s not a surprise Latin-influenced ideas are in the mix. But Kabat-Marcy says the concepts they’ve considered are as far-flung as Mongolian hot pot. The common denominator is that they will compliment what is already being offered by their new neighbors.

“For us personally it’s very important to bring something new and something exciting,” Cox says. “Whatever we bring will be a very unique take on whatever we do.”

Considering the bigger picture, the partners are thinking hard about where the restaurant industry is going and how best to position a new iteration of their brand for the sustainability of their employees and the restaurant itself.

“The restaurant world is very different than even three years ago when we were working on Cultura,” Cox says.

When Cultura opened in 2016, the team members had come from a fine-dining background, most recently at Post Ranch Inn’s Sierra Mar. They saw the opportunity to open their own, less formal place as a chance to be more accessible and to let their creativity loose, while still treating their guests to fine-dining-level cooking techniques, sourcing and customer service.

For the new venture, the partners want to maintain their focus on customer care, but in keeping with the times and the challenges that restaurants—and employees—are increasingly facing, they are considering moving further along the casual continuum. Questions have arisen as to whether cash is still relevant, if automation should be included and how they might provide a version of counter service with fine-dining elements.

A mural by artist Ricardo Angeles

One thing they know for certain is that they hope to involve Ricardo Angeles, a young Oaxacan muralist who comes from an long and iconic line of folk art carvers that recently served as consultants in the development of the colorful Pixar film Coco, which is set in Mexico.

The Cultura partners’ vision is for Angeles to paint murals inside the restaurant and an enclosed outdoor seating area, creating an experience of dining within a mural.

Kabat-Marcy and Cox considered Monterey before settling on a space for Cultura in Carmel, but they never found the right location.

Their arrival on Alvarado St. now will put them in the midst of an explosion of notable openings: Also in early 2019, former Sierra Mar pastry chef Ben Spungin and his partners, Kirk Probasco and P.J. Clark, will open Alta Bakery and Cella Restaurant in the historic Cooper Molera Adobe at the corner of Alvarado and Polk Sts.

And in recent years, other former fine-dining chefs have set the bar high at casual new Alvarado St. offerings Poke Lab, Revival Ice Cream and Alvarado Brewing. Meanwhile, exciting new restaurant entrants with international concepts that have rounded out the short street’s offerings include the Persian Saffron Cafe, Italian MidiCi pizza and Japanese Toribashi.